Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley

Sue Westfall

September 13, 2021

Dear Friends,

I have long been a fan of author, Anne Lamott. Partly because she is such a good writer. Partly because her conversion experience began when she stumbled, badly hung-over, into a little Presbyterian Church in Marin, County – St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. That little Presbyterian church loved her in such a way that she began to love herself and imagine that she might be loved by God and had inestimable worth which was none of her doing. She met Jesus there and in the only conversion testimony I’ve ever heard that included the F-word, she invited him into her heart. That was years ago and over the ensuing years she has become a mainstay at the church and a teacher of their children’s Sunday school.

She recently reflected on what she might teach the children in these days of so much turmoil, grief, illness, remembrance, fire, and storm. Since they spoke to me, I share her reflection with you:

“I am having trouble remembering all the things to be freaked about right now. It’s once again like trying to put an octopus to bed; just when you think you’ve finally tucked in all the arms, one pops out. I feel alternately crushed, enraged, and flabbergasted; also, hopeful and amazed by the roaring and tender humanitarian response, to Afghanistan, Ida, and Texas.

What would I tell my Sunday School kids today if we were in person? I always tell them the same things—that grace bats last: to notice the beauty all around us, the meadows near us tawny beneath the soft grey fog; to know that God calls them Beloved, as is and no matter what; to listen and hear each other.

I would tell them that in dark times, one must always turn to the saints—Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Molly Ivins. Oh, and of course, also to the reckless love of Jesus, but let’s leave that for another day.

A usual class might be a 7-year-old, an 11-year old, and a teenager, plus possibly a random baby whom we’ve taken off its mother’s hands so she can worship in peace with the grownups. So a mixed grille of ages but the 7-year-old would easily understand Mother Teresa’s words, that no one can do great things, but *everyone* can do small things with great love.

Well, almost everyone. I am not going to name names at this time.

We would talk about small things we could each do today with great love—smiling at street people, getting people water or crayons, picking up litter. (Me? I’ll also send money to the Resistance in Texas.)

And surely, the 11-year-old has studied Gandhi in school, and knows about the Salt March, and all his Greatest Hits acts of nonviolent resistance. My kids, knowing that snacks are forthcoming, would love and be glad to discuss the idea that resistance changes the hearts of the people who are trying to hurt you. I might bring up Gandhi saying that Christians are so different than our dear Christ, whom Gandhi loved, that the aim of so many Christians is to be rich at the expense of the poor; that they are the most warlike people. But I don’t want to make them sad, so I’d tell them how Gandhi made sandals in jail for South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts, who’d kept him in prison, sandals Smuts wore his whole life; and then I’d move on to St. Molly.

Molly Ivins died around the time my teenager was born, 2007—fourteen years gone! How on earth have we managed? The point was that, as Molly said, freedom fighters don’t always win, but they are always right. And so even as that octopus, fighting sleep, flings another heartbreaking arm out of the bed into which she has been tucked, we continue to fight the good fight, for peace, for the poor, for the earth.

I always bring them a healthy (ish) snack, and of course Capri Suns, on which all good Sunday Schools are based (along with glue sticks.) I would tell them a gentle Jesus story while they eat, this being church and all. But because I have gotten old and funny, I would *just* that minute remember the Gandhi story I had started out meaning to include. Gandhi was brought out of prison one day in (I think) 1914 to a meeting with Smuts, who was a pretty good guy. Smuts offered him lunch, probably thinking what a lovely and filling change of pace that would be.

“Thank you,” Gandhi says, “but I dined in jail.”

I would enthusiastically ask my kids, “Don’t you love that?” Modest, humble, soft spoken Gandhi, who overthrows an empire? And they would pretend to, because I am walking towards where I keep the snacks.  We bow our heads. We give thanks. We bless the bread, break it, and share it with each other.  And because I’ve stopped talking, my sneaky trickster lesson has just begun: four people of all ages and two colors, eating together, new life.”

As ever in prayer,



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